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Baseball Is Not Black Enough

Sep 8 2020
Photo by
Matt Thomas/San Diego Padres
Photo by
Matt Thomas/San Diego Padres
Taylor Trammell
Seattle Mariners
Sep 8 2020

That headline got you a little bit nervous, huh?

You think this is going to be a tough conversation?

This isn’t tough. This is nothing.

Every time a police shooting goes viral, everybody starts talking about, “It’s time for us to have some tough talks.”

A tough talk is going to a mother’s house and telling her that somebody killed her son while he was out for a jog.

A tough talk is having to tell your kid that their dad is never gonna walk again because he was shot by police.

These conversations we’re starting to have about race in this country, in our locker rooms or with our friends and colleagues — yeah, it’s not fun. But I really hope that it doesn’t feel tough. If that’s a tough talk for you, that’s sad. Because for us?

It’s what we live through. It’s reality.

I remember one time when I was eight or nine, and I was riding in the truck with my dad. My dad’s in the front seat. I’m in the back. We were probably about a mile away from our house when we got stopped by a police officer.

The guy comes up on the truck like pretty intense — moving fast, hand on the holster and everything. My dad rolls down the window, and after a beat, the cop kind of backs off like, “Oh, wrong guy, wrong guy. Sorry.”

I just remember my dad being so upset. Just saying all this stuff as we drove away. And I didn’t get it. I’m like, “Dad, calm down, calm down.” He told me I was too young to understand. And he was right. But you know what? That stuck with me forever. I mean, the look on my dad’s face….

I mean, the look on my dad’s face…. That kind of thing leaves a mark on you.

That kind of thing leaves a mark on you.

So imagine all of these kids who have had to witness one of these police interactions gone wrong, or hear about it later, or even see it on Twitter.

That’s a generation of kids who are never gonna want to call the police in their life at ALL. Because they’ve seen what could happen if anything goes wrong.

They’re gonna run away from them. Because they have this incident, this trauma, in the back of their minds from such a young age.

I actually told that story to my teammates during camp this summer, when we were discussing Black Lives Matter and everything going on. And as I was telling it, I realized something….

Some of these guys, there’s just no way they can imagine what it’s like to walk in my shoes because our experiences in this world are so … different.

They see a police officer, and they don’t blink an eye.

They go to a store, and they don’t worry about somebody following them.

A lot of them have never had the conversation about how to deal with police if you get in a messy situation.

Sometimes it can get really personal telling these stories, and for a second I had to take a step back like, I’m getting too emotional in this.

I know a lot of people feel me when I say that it’s almost too much to keep explaining over and over.

At this point, it just feels like some people don’t even care.

Matt Thomas/San Diego Padres

August 27, 2020, is gonna hold a special place in sports history because that’s the day that everything came to a standstill for racial justice — starting with the NBA.

When I was in training camp with the Padres, there were about 50 people included at our alternate site. And including the trainers, and everybody that’s there, you know how many were Black?

Five.

Two coaches and three players. So we were tight. We were all very close, having conversations about everything going on in the world like every single day. They had my back, and I had (and still have) their backs through anything and everything.

But we had to have each other’s backs like that. Because you know what? I’m gonna be honest with you, I can’t speak for what happened in the major clubhouse, but we had our normal meeting at nine o’clock at the alternate site after the boycotts in sports started, and nothing was said.

I wanted to be like, “Hey, are we gonna talk about what’s going on in the world? Or are we gonna keep hiding under this rock?”

I wanted to do that, but it’s like, Do I risk being seen as “that guy?” Do I risk being seen as a less desirable player?

People say that they care a lot. But, just speaking from the heart … I don’t know if they really do.

You look at what’s happening in basketball, with Milwaukee taking that stand, and then look at MLB organizations, and it’s like…. You kind of feel like you’re on an island, in all honesty.

Look, everything that’s going on in the world right now, it’s bigger than baseball.

The fact that I am 22 years old, and I’ve seen so many people getting shot, so many people dying, being murdered … watching this on social media … watching people getting their lives taken away on Twitter….

It’s insane.

But I believe that everyone has a role to play, including MLB.

And I can’t help but think that these heart-to-hearts would go a lot differently in baseball if my team — if my sport — had a lot more Black people in it.

It’s like, you guys aren’t in our shoes. You’re not seeing what we’re going through.

And it’s not just the violence.

I can’t help but think that these heart-to-hearts would go a lot differently in baseball if my team — if my sport — had a lot more Black people in it.

You’re not seeing everything that’s happening behind closed doors. How certain people treat us. How certain people talk to us. You’re not seeing this! You really aren’t.

A lot of people don’t even know how hard it was for me as a Black guy to even be in this position. I feel like we don’t talk enough about why there aren’t a lot of Black people in professional baseball, whether that’s minors or MLB.

And it isn’t just a baseball problem, it’s a life problem, but you start to see how it affects the game as early as Little League. I can remember seeing things that were very eye-opening for me at that age. Things that could push a Black kid out of a sport that they love before they even get a chance to get good.

I remember growing up and being on a predominantly white team, playing away games near Atlanta, where a lot of people looked just like me.

As a kid, I looked forward to these trips like it was a family reunion. But we’d get there, and staff and people would be acting all nervous like, “Hey, make sure you guys lock your cars.” Or, “Hey, make sure you guys take everything with you. Don’t leave anything valuable.” Seriously??

We were having a great time. Everybody was having fun. Plus, people looked like me. And some people really thought, Hey, make sure you lock your car and don’t have any valuables when you come out here.

Keep in mind, I was just a kid, so I just took it at face value. O.K., I guess we’re not in that good of an area.

But as I got older, it hit me that like, no, I have family members that live out there. It’s really not bad at all. Just poor. And Black.

And then it’s just like, Are you really that scared of Black people?

The older I’ve gotten, the more I’ve had to reflect on stuff like this and find my voice, find out how to talk about this stuff within a mostly white sports community.

Coming from the South, my parents were always really honest about race. I think my first conversation with them about it was when I was seven or eight years old.

I remember I was playing on a playground, and a kid I was playing with said something to me that I had never heard before — I didn’t know what in the world a “nigger” was.

It’s just like, Are you really that scared of Black people?

That’s when my parents were first like, “Hey, you have to understand, at the end of the day you’re a Black boy in America. There are going to be times when people are going to say stuff to you, but you can’t act out. You can’t bring attention to yourself. You can’t lash out, fight somebody, just because they said something to you out of the way.”

Things were (and still are) very different in the South.

My dad was born in 1961. He tells me stories all the time about him living in Alabama in the ’60s and ’70s. There was a gravel road around his house, and people would drive over there just trying to make a lot of noise and intimidate his family. They’d rev up their engines and then tear off, their tires shooting gravel and rocks across the side of the house.

When he tells me stories like that about how he was treated, it gets my blood boiling in all honesty.

It just takes me right back to being seven years old and getting told by my parents what that word was that I was called and how it has been used to hurt people who look like me for a long time. And for me, the fact that a white kid even knew what that word was at that age — at seven years old — you know that he’d heard it in his house. You know that people around him had been saying it.

And so, from that point on, I was like, Wow, O.K.

It was something that I just couldn’t wrap my head around, coming from a family that taught me to love everybody.

Courtesy of Taylor Trammell

But it’s a word I’ve heard many times since, in the outfield, coming from “fans” in the stands.

And so, for a while, I tried to numb myself to it.

I grew up reading books about all the Negro league players and everything like that. Reading about their stats, just how big their arms were, what size bats they used. Growing up without a lot of other Black people playing baseball with me or even in MLB, those were the guys I looked up to.

I have a Negro league jersey with all of the teams on it that my dad got from my uncle back in the day. It’s probably one of the most beautiful jerseys that’s in our house right now. I had Negro league baseball cards.

I just thought so much of these guys, like, Oh, man. This is unbelievable. Like, these guys had their own league!!

You know how sometimes you like think about how your life would have been if you were born in another time period? It’s weird to think that had I been born like 80 years ago, and somehow been lucky enough to do what I’m doing now, I would have been like guys like Satchel Paige, Josh Gibson, or Cool Papa Bell.

But flash forward to today, in an MLB that broke the color barrier a long time ago, and I still deal with racist crap.

And like I said, for a while I was kind of numb to it.

But maybe two, three years ago, a flip just switched.

I wasn’t gonna take it anymore.

We were in the clubhouse during spring training. A guy had this bat — keep in mind, it wasn’t like a new bat, but I mean, a wood bat gets the job done for the most part.

And so, this other guy says to him, “Ah, dang dude, you’re using a Negro league bat, man!” Basically, he was saying that bat’s so old, so beat, you know?

I was like, “Yo, yo, yo, what?” And he started backpedaling. “Oh no, I didn’t mean anything.”

Nah. “No, no, no. What did you say?” I asked him straight up, “What does that mean?” And of course, he couldn’t say anything.

“So, what you’re saying is,” I told him, “that the Negro leagues — Black people — are beneath white people? That’s pretty much what you’re saying.” He’s like, “No, no, no.” I was like, “So what are you saying?” And he couldn’t express himself. He couldn’t say what he actually wanted to say because I was there.

I was nervous at first as I was talking. But as I started to get into it, it got to the point where I didn’t care what anyone thought of me.

I just wanted him and everybody watching that day to understand that Black people were held back in this game for so many years. They made do with what they had. And sometimes, it was even better than what existed in the actual major leagues.

So, nah, don’t try to joke like, “Hey, you’re using a Negro league bat.”

Because I can look at it right now, and I could say right back, “Well, I’ve seen the Negro league jerseys, and they’re stitched to perfection.”


Matt Thomas/San Diego Padres

Look, people can say they care as much as they want, but it really shows in your actions. I’m not asking everyone in baseball to be super vocal on social media or anything like that.

It could be something as simple as, “Hey, T, bro, I just wanna let you know, man, I’m here for you. I see the stuff that’s happening in the world right now, and I’m with you. I want there to be change.”

And you wanna know how MLB can meet the moment and the movement, as an organization?

It’s really this simple.

Put your money where your mouth is.

I think they need to acknowledge, in a bigger way, what’s going on in the world — not just putting out a statement and saying, “We put something out there.”

I don’t care that you put out a post. My question is: What are you gonna do to back this up?

It’s about initiatives. It’s about helping inner city kids get into the game of baseball.

Sometimes I wonder what baseball could be if Black kids didn’t have to spend so much time trying to overcome racism or money issues to get involved.

I’m gonna be real with you, when I saw the Milwaukee Bucks take that stand, and they were reading out that letter together, I thought, Wow.

MLB is in a position now, like every other institution, to rethink the systems in place that are keeping Black people out. To reflect on systemic oppression and take a real stand.

And that’s cool and all that people’s minds are changing.

But we need REAL change.

Sometimes I wonder what baseball could be if Black kids didn’t have to spend so much time trying to overcome racism or money issues to get involved.

People at my agency, my friends, my associates, some of my teammates, they’ve come up to me in the past few months, and said, “This situation in this country is unacceptable. I want to learn from you. I want to understand what is going on because I’ve been blind for so many years.”

I’ve gained a whole bunch of respect for those people for reaching out.

It’s also brought me closer to a lot of the other Black players because we’re speaking up and we’re actually having a dialogue like, “Bro, look, I understand we were going through this, but how can we express this now to our white teammates, our Latin teammates?” And we’re actually growing closer from those conversations.

That right there is key — us growing together.

That, combined with the game itself growing, is the future of MLB.

I think that in all honesty, if you want the best athletes out on the field, advertise the game to everyone. Advertise it to every single person in America, every little kid who is watching the game, advertise it to them and make sure they can afford it.

That right there is your future, MLB.

Those kids are going to be the ones who take over the game one day.

Start at the youth level. But take that energy all the way to the major league locker rooms and front offices.

I’m just now starting to feel like I can actually speak up in the moment when I hear something, without somebody side-eyeing me, thinking I’m just complaining or being soft, or something like that.

There’s real change happening.

But we gotta get LOUDER in baseball, you hear me??

We need VOICES.

And we need more Black players on the field.

What are we waiting for?

Taylor Trammell
Seattle Mariners